The California Department of Water Resources has announced plans that it may use the Oroville Dam Spillway next week. The announcement doesn’t come as a surprise as wet May weather has been pushing the already full Lake Oroville near its capacity for the past two weeks.
On Friday, the DWR increased the outflows of the Hyatt Powerplant to approximately 10,000 cubic feet per second in preparation of the of higher inflows into the reservoir next week. The current elevation of Oroville reservoir is 895 feet.
“DWR is contacting its state and federal regulatory agencies, local law enforcement, local elected officials and downstream levee districts to prepare for the potential use. Once the decision is made on whether to use the spillway or not, DWR will provide regular updates to the public and the media,” DWR said in a statement.
In February of 2017, the spillway capsized under water pressure, forcing the evacuations of 180,000 residents in the Butte County area. Since then, the spillway has gone through a $1 billion reconstruction. The first and only time the brand-new Oroville Dam spillway was used was on April 2.
The community surrounding Lake Oroville has been on high alert since water levels have risen during May. Rumors and conspiracies theories have dominated message boards and subreddits claiming the spillway will collapse again during its next use. The community became frantic, forcing Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea to address the situation:
Please take a moment to read the attached statement from Sheriff Kory Honea regarding recent rumors and concerns expressed about the Oroville Dam and it’s spillway. #ButteSheriff pic.twitter.com/S8tRwDLd4F— Butte County Sheriff (@ButteSheriff) May 14, 2019
A full reservoir is a welcome sight after years of drought and low levels to accommodate reconstruction. A full reservoir provides optimal recreation opportunities and serves as a vital water bank account to help California cope with future drought conditions. It is common for the reservoir to stay relatively full during the summer months in an above average water year. In 2010-2011, another very wet year, the reservoir sat an elevation between 898 and 899 feet for the entire month of July.